Association of amygdala volumes with cortisol secretion in unipolar depressed patients
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is accompanied by morphological changes of brain structures which are of great importance in the neural circuitry mediating depression like the hippocampus and the amygdala. Hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system resulting in enhanced glucocorticoid secretion can often be observed during depression and has been thought to play an important role in inducing these morphological changes. We used magnetic resonance imaging to investigate alterations of amygdala and hippocampal volumes in 86 in-patients with unipolar depression and 87 healthy controls, and we then correlated amygdala and hippocampal volumes of 76 in-patients with the area under the curve of cortisol secretion in the dexamethasone/corticotropin releasing hormone (Dex/CRH) test at baseline and during short-term antidepressant therapy. In line with recently published studies both left and right amygdala volumes of patients in a first depressive episode were smaller than those of healthy controls. Patients with recurrent depressive episodes showed a reduction of hippocampal volumes, while amygdala volumes were normal. Larger left and right amygdala volumes correlated with a more pronounced reduction of HPA activity, measured by the cortisol secretion in the combined DEX/CRH test, during antidepressant therapy in patients with recurrent depressive episodes.